Summer Nights

(part 6 of 'The Cape')

I remember waking up on a summer morning to the sound of fans. It was hot, and it seemed like all the energy was somehow stolen from my body overnight. Oh yeah the fans were strategically placed throughout the apartment by my dad who believed that bouncing the air from one fan off the wall picked up by another fan facing a window towards a fan in a window created this tremendous breeze. This actually only worked if you were standing in front of one of the fans.

Out on the street everything and everyone seemed to be moving at half speed. Once my friends and I got together it was easy to decide what to do. The Johnny pump was our ocean. Once it was open we were all swept away to our imaginary islands. Our clothes hanging on palm trees (iron fence) our towels spread out on the shoreline (steps of the stoop). Aah paradise. The real beach was only for the weekends, if we were lucky. I was pretty lucky because there were times I spent at my grandmothers in Bay Ridge, close to Coney Island. I never spoke about it. I didn’t want my friends to feel bad.

One thing that stands out in my mind so strongly is memories of special summer nights, everybody outside on their stoops sitting on steps or kitchen chairs, talking baseball, politics, prices, and of course the heat. Then the breeze would pick up, the sky would begin to light up, thunder would get closer and closer. There would be just a few warning drops and then a downpour would send everyone except the kids scurrying to the hallways. There would be laughter, happy yelling soaked kids, dancing in the rain. In an instant the ran would stop. The strange smell of clean concrete and  asphalt would fill the air along with the happy chatter of returning neighbors to their places, a little cooler, a little happier, and not wanting to end this summer night.

Waiting for the breeze that only sometimes came
Or perhaps a summer storm rain
Sitting on the front stoop in solitude
In a world words could not explain
Lighting bolts light the distant sky
Nature’s promise of rest from a summer heat
Senses aware of the ocean’s scent in the air
The sound of thunder quickens the heart’s beat
First drop of sweet rain touches the skin
Then a million diamonds fall lit by the lights
The city’s soul cleansed and renewed
Never ending magic filled summer nights.

– niz

Childlike Joy

(part 7 of 'The Cape')

Nine-years-old, new neighborhood, pretty scared as anyone who has ever moved would know: First day of school, ditto. Fortunately we moved into a mostly Italian neighborhood so I at least had the important vowel at the end of my name.

St. Rita’s a fine Brooklyn Catholic school, boys in white shirts and ties, girls in traditional attire, neat blouses and skirts and anklets. None of us were too happy with the dress code. Being grown-up we would have preferred more streetwise attire. The nuns, special creatures who had free reign to terrorize little kids for the sake of education and God, would have none of that. You either got it right, did it right, behaved right or else! No matter I miss it all, the behavior of the clicker, the attitude adjuster ruler, and even the out of character for most, warm smile of assurance that they were  doing God’s work. I miss it because it was part of growing up.

Baseball played the biggest part in my adopting to my new friends, and in turn them accepting me. Thank God I was pretty good, small for my age but pretty damn good. Faster than most, with good baseball sense made me a commodity for St. Rita’s and other sand lot teams we would go on and play. Memories of good plays, misplays, championships won and lost, all steps in growing up, which is what I did, almost.

The grass under my feet
The thrill of the game
The feeling never leaves
It’s always the same

The outside world fades away
The minute the games begun
Just the smell of grass and glove leather
As I stand in the sun

The crack of the bat
And at once, I’m off like a shot
Like the first time I ever played
I give it all that I’ve got

I feel I’m running like the wind
And catching the ball with pure grace
I return to my position
A huge smile on my face

I look down to the grass
I realize the reason for this joy
For there, in my shadow
Remains the little boy.

– niz

Passed Angel

(part 8 of 'The Cape')

School dances had to be God’s idea for giving teenagers a chance to experience euphoria without getting into too much trouble. The school monitors, teachers who tried to act like the belonged, stuck out like sore thumbs. But getting back to paradise, dances were a chance to get close to Donna or Maria, which if I remember correctly was just about every girl’s name at the dances I went to. Wearing the most up to date styles they could afford everyone looked great, especially Donna or Maria.

We were just a little more fortunate. We, Snooky, Frankie, Louie and myself, got to sing at these dances, some great harmony to some tireless songs in what I would realize later on in life would be a sealed vacuum of memories. We would go on stage and at once in our minds be transformed to stars like the ones we listened to and imitated. Lights turned lower, acapella harmony would float out from our lips. The crowd was mesmerized by what was happening.
All eyes were upon us, especially Donna and Maria; this was in our minds remember.

In reality we were good, mostly Snooky had a voice like an angel. When he sang people took notice. It was good to ride on that momentary carpet of fame where we were stars. I will miss Snooky the most. At the age of twenty-two youth was wiped our by a syringe. I will miss Snooky the most.

Been so long since I’ve heard you sing
Angelic voice with that message you would bring
A soulful way with words, how only you could do
A church like hush, before their praise, when you were through

Such a sad waste of talent, vein filled fantasy, your choice
Escape from reality, ruined more than your voice

Now a haunting memory from my youth, my heart can’t ignore
The sad day they came and told me,  you would sing no more.

– niz

Doo Wop Heart

(part 9 of 'The Cape')

I mentioned school dances before, which were a thrill to sing at and be the focus of attention for that short while. Yet singing was something more than that. We would try to find anyplace that carried the echo. School stairways, subway stations, anywhere that carried your sound to a special, mystical place. It would emanate from your heart and soul, reach out, linger for awhile and return to touch your own heart. There was a common bond, trance like and it remained until you were done.

We entertained the thought of making it big, making records, being stars. Alas, not quite. Somehow though singing on a summer night, the park our stage, the lamppost our spotlight brought about an irreplaceable moment of friendship and closeness. It doesn’t get much better than that.

The crowd roared their approval the group was all the rage
As they all sang from their hearts on the high school stage
Rock and roll singers fresh from fame on the street
Together, voiced their emotions to the rock and roll beat

Harmony from their souls reached all those around
In the magic of the moment, the stage, holy ground
The crowd in the palm of their hands, right from the start
They sang love songs with a message, for each and every heart

Now with passing years, the aging voices changed
Different paths, once youthful lives, all rearranged
Their walks in different directions, yet their memories common ground
In each heart, they’re on stage again, singing the same harmonic sound

– niz

Junk Eyes

(part 10 of 'The Cape')

Growing up, it was some sort of ritual the way we chose friends: Popularity with the opposite sex, sports, music style, etcetera. In reality, we were much smarter than we gave ourselves credit for. Each one of us needed something or had something to give.   Being immature we were reluctant to give or receive. True friends however did this without even realizing it. Those were the ones that stuck through thick and thin.

Unfortunately some friends changed drastically: the times, their family, peer pressure. One of them sticks out, something hauntingly. I wonder if I did enough to change his course. He gave. He took. Just like a friend.

His walk a creation of the neighborhood, a slight hop with each step. He truly was one of the only white people with rhythm that I knew. He even sang like the black guys in the neighborhood. A bad family background made Sal skeptical of almost everyone he knew, not me though. Our special relationship was singing. We could harmonize, anytime, anywhere, and love every minute of it. I could make him laugh any time. And for some reason that made Sal trust and love me.

Junk was his downfall and it didn’t take too long to creep into our lives. It split us apart. I couldn’t make him laugh anymore. He was way too sad inside in spite of the silly grin on his face, a different person, surly at time, lying at the drop of a hat. It crushed me inside. I tried, to no avail. I saw him change right in front of my eyes. It took some time but it seemed to be overnight. The transformation from a singing, laughing, bright-eyed teenager to Sally Junk Eyes broke my heart.

We would walk the streets, everyone would know our name
Being sure in our youth, it would always be the same
Then I watched you stumble, I did all that I could
You said you could change, I prayed, that you would

Catholic school alter boy, little league all-star
I knew you would go places, I wasn’t sure how far
Then I saw your hunched shoulders, under the elevated train
Ignoring all the people, cursing the rain

Schoolyard stick ball, punch ball in the street
High-top black Keds, soles melting from the heat
Youthful treasured memories, for which most people would pay
Sally Junk Eyes with a shrug, sadly tossed it all away

Street stand lemon ice giving momentary bliss
Black asphalt streets steaming from a summer storms kiss
Youthful voice meant for stardom, angelic face
Junk eyes searched for fame in a tenement staircase

You live on in my dream, under the Fulton Street el
No more junk eyes or sad smile, like you just returned from hell
Because it is a dream, when I call out your name
You walk towards me. We are kids again. And there we remain.

– niz